2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘1814! The War of 1812 Rock Opera’ by David Dudley and Dave Israel

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Experience the epic rock splendor of the battle that birthed our National Anthem

Forget White House Down. This summer’s most thrilling spectacle of executive-mansion destruction is the one about the time it really happened.

Olympus has fallen: British soldiers exult in arson during “Burning Down the White House.” Photograph by Eldon Baldwin.

Olympus has fallen: British soldiers exult in arson during “Burning Down the White House.” Photo by Eldon Baldwin.

“You can call it state-sponsored terrorism,” sings a preening British admiral in 1814! The War of 1812 Rock Opera. “But I’m a sucker for political symbolism…. I’m burning, burning, burning, I’m burning down the White House!”

1814!, which opens at the Capital Fringe Festival on July 11th, tells the dramatic story of the British mid-Atlantic campaign of that year, including the defeat of the American resistance at Bladensburg; the British sacking of Washington, D.C.; and the triumphant defense of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, famously commemorated by Francis Scott Key in “The Star Spangled Banner.” While every American has heard of the “rockets’ red glare,” only a few remember what sent those rockets flying. And to our knowledge, only two recognized the conflict’s potential as a hilarious heavy-metal sing-off.

“We lived down the street from Fort McHenry in Baltimore and always thought that the battle would make a great Tommy-style rock opera,” says David Dudley, a magazine editor in DC who wrote the show’s music and lyrics with longtime friend and collaborator Dave Israel, a space communications engineer at NASA. “Unfortunately, it took us many years to find the cast and crew willing to stage such a thing.”

The two Daves, who formed the core of the Baltimore rock band Dr. Tasty in the 1990s, were not newcomers to the genre. They had earlier joined Dudley’s brother, John, in creating a rock opera about the cannibalistic Donner Party wagon train of 1846. Called simply Donner!, the work was performed only once, at a legendary Arlington, Virginia house party in 1993.

Dudley and Israel toiled for years on 1814!; as careers and families took precedence, the project was back-burnered but never fully forgotten. “We used to joke that we had until 2012 to finish it,” says Israel. “But then it was 2012.” As the war’s bicentennial loomed, a timely call came from Canada’s CBC-TV. The network was filming a tongue-in-cheek documentary about the War of 1812, and its producers had heard about the existence of a rock opera dramatizing the Battle of Baltimore. Could Dudley and Israel stage some songs for the CBC cameras?

Armed with a few hundred dollars of Canadian taxpayer funds, Dudley and Israel assembled a band, rented a theater and some costumes, and drafted a corps of singers who’d performed locally in productions of the prestigious Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS). The success of that three-song preview show last June, which climaxed in an impromptu audience sing-along to the show’s Meatloafian power ballad, “Big Ass Flag,” led to a full production at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance at the Patterson in October. That sold-out run, in turn, convinced the company to take their show on the road. The current cast of 1814! includes members of the bands National Razor F.D.I.C, the Goons/Nervous Impulse, and Aries, as well as veterans of recent BROS productions Murdercastle and Valhella and the Landless Theatre Company’s prog-metal Frankenstein opera. Together, they turn a forgotten war into an unforgettable musical theater experience.

For more information on the production, visit 1814therockopera.com. 

O, say can you sew?: Major George Armistead urges local seamstress Mary Pickersgill to make a gigantic version of the Stars and Stripes in “Big Ass Flag.” Photo by Eldon Baldwin.

O, say can you sew?: Major George Armistead urges local seamstress Mary Pickersgill to make a gigantic version of the Stars and Stripes in “Big Ass Flag.” Photo by Eldon Baldwin.

PERFORMANCES

1814! The War of 1812 Rock Opera, by David Dudley and Dave Israel, will be playing at Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar (closest Metro: Mt. Vernon Square) on the following dates and times:

All performances at:
 Fort Fringe – Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
 
July 11 at 7:00 pm
July 14 at 5:30 pm
July 18 at 9:00 pm
July 20 at 7:45 pm
July 23 at 6:30 pm
July 26 at 10:15 pm

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE.


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